When Emmanuel Adebayor has been in the spotlight this season it has not always been for the right reasons. Two suspensions have meant the Manchester City striker has spent seven games on the sidelines, he was berated for a celebration in front of the Arsenal supporters who once idolised him, and was then the captain of the Togo team when their bus was attacked by gunmen on the eve of the African Cup of Nations in January.
But while it has been a difficult, emotional first year at City, the club need Adebayor to channel his energy in the right way for the next eight games as they strive for Champions League football for the first time. His return tonight against Wigan, following a four-match ban for his red card against Stoke, could not be more timely. The prospect of having Adebayor in tandem with Carlos Tevez has filled Roberto Mancini, the City manager, with hope in the fight for fourth place in the Premier League.
"We have missed Emmanuel a lot and his return will give us a major boost for the run-in," Mancini said. "If we can play with Manu and Carlos for the remaining matches, I think we'll be fine." Had Adebayor been available for the 12 league games he has missed in this campaign, City might have been "fine" a lot earlier - and perhaps even challenged those above for the title. Nine goals in his 18 games lends weight to that theory, although Micah Richards said City could not dwell on what might have been. "There's no excuses there," said the City defender.
"Tevez and [Craig] Bellamy have been doing fantastic and [Roque] Santa Cruz has helped out a lot when he's been fit. It's just good to have Ade back. "He's one of the best strikers in the league undoubtedly. He's had an up and down season, but he will be back and fully firing." Excuses are not on City's mind right now. Nor can there be any at the end of the season, according to Vincent Kompany. "After 38 games if you are fourth, you deserve to be fourth. If you are fifth then that's where you should be," said the Belgian centre-back.
Like the rest of his teammates, Kompany wants to erase the memory of last week's 2-0 loss to Everton - their first home defeat of the season. But north- west neighbours Wigan will not make it easy. With just a four-point gap to Hull in the bottom three, they are by no means safe from relegation. Roberto Martinez, their manager, has gained a reputation for trying to play good football. He was at Eastlands to watch how a disciplined Everton side's counter-attacking tactics pay off superbly.
City will have to produce more creative ideas than they did against Everton to get past Wigan, and must be wary of the pace of Hugo Rodallega on the break. Liverpool found it difficult to handle the striker at the start of the month when they lost 1-0 at the DW Stadium. Kompany recognises that and his performances at the back will be crucial tonight and in the coming weeks while Joleon Lescott recovers from hamstring trouble.
He has often been a towering presence in defence and in midfield, which is his favoured position. But Kompany's partnership with Kolo Toure has not looked as reassuring as it has with Lescott. That might improve in time and Kompany said: "If I play centre back, I do expect to perform like the best centre-backs in the league. That's what I expect of myself. "But I will play wherever the team need me. The goal is to get fourth and that goal is greater than any individual."